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  • Trevor Perkes

Historical Structures of Yellowstone that Most Park Visitors Will Never See & Experience –But Should

Updated: Mar 15, 2022

Most people come to Yellowstone to experience the many rare and spectacular iconic features of the park (and of course the wildlife), and rightfully so. These natural features inspire us with the beauty of their creation and can bestow a sense of gratitude for the chance to see and experience them.

Located throughout the park are various structures, built by those of the past who lived and traversed the lands of Yellowstone. Their legacy is imprinted on the landscapes of the park and are should be honored and cherished.

Here are ten features, historical remnants found in Yellowstone National Park, originally created by prehistoric inhabitants of the land or by early park explorers and settlers. To see them can create a longing to be present, even at a distance, to witness those who erected these structures and in so doing become a part of treasured history.

Native American Teepee Ring

At various sites in the park are located perfectly rounded or spherical placement of rocks that serve as the outer border of where Native Americans pitched their teepees (also spelled tepee, or tipi). Its an interesting if not humbling experience to stand on the same ground where the original inhabitants of the land stood and went about their lives.

Road Section: North Entrance to Mammoth Hot Springs. Location: Rescue Creek Trailhead – Beginning at the parking lot the trail heads northeast or approximately 80 yards until arriving at a small walking bridge over the Gardner River. On the other end of the bridge the trail switches back and forth until you are traveling north. In less than 100 yards you will see diversion of a trail heading northeast. Located just 10-15 yards west of this spot is the tepee ring. An approximately 20-foot diameter or rocks that are gradually disappearing below the surface – the effects of weather over the years and centuries.

Native American Fish Trap

It is well known that several different Native American tribes seasonally ventured into Yellowstone to hunt, gather obsidian and other natural resources, and to fish. Yellowstone Lake is famous for its cutthroat trout, a desired food source for the early inhabitants.

Road Section: West Thumb to Lake Village. Location: Just north of Bridge Bay the remnant walls of large black boulders can be seen extending from the shore out into the lake, creating an enclosed area when water levels are lower. The stone walls are best viewed during the later season of the park or early fall when water levels are lower.

Remnants of First Bridge Built Over the Yellowstone River

The history of the development of the road system of Yellowstone National Park is a fascinating story that actually began before Yellowstone National Park was officially created on March 1, 1872. One such part of that history was the creation of the first bridge over the Yellowstone River. As you might imagine the site to construct that bridge needed to be a place where the river was narrow, especially considering that the first bridge was built in 1871 when the equipment to build such a structure was very limited.

That first bridge was built by Collins Jack Baronett (sometimes spelled Baronette) as was used as a toll bridge for travelers to Cooke City. It fulfilled its purpose until 1877 when it was burned down by Native American Indians during the Nez Perce War. The bridge was rebuilt the following year with enhancements being made by various bridge owners as well as the United States Army who took possession and management of the bridge in 1894.

Remnants of that first bridge can be seen as a man-made wall of stacked stones with parts of the original wooden timbers still embedded in the rocks. You can also still see some engravings of the old road (or more like a wagon trail) on both sides of the river.

Road Section: Tower-Roosevelt to Northeast Entrance. Location: Shortly after crossing the bridge over the Yellowstone River after taking the Northeast Entrance Road at Tower-Roosevelt, there is a pull out and very short road on the left or north side of the road. From here there is a trail that traverses the rim of the canyon above the river. When you get near the end of the trail, just before it drops down to a lower level, a vague trail cuts back leading you steeply downward that terminates at the platform area for the east landing of the bridge. Here you see how the rocks have been stacked and the remnants of wooden logs.

The Devil’s Elbow

Devils Elbow is another feature of the early Yellowstone National Park road system whose remnants are a stark reminder of the treacherous conditions that greeted the early stagecoach travelers in this section of the park. The elbow is an 80-degree cutback with the stone retaining wall still somewhat intact that provided pathway for reaching the top of the canyon and was built in 1887.

Road Section: Norris to Canyon Village. Location: On the Virginia Cascade Drive as you near the top of the canyon and the brink of the cascades, there is a short, single lane pull-off area where you can park. From here you can hike down the south side from the pull-off area to see up close, not only the cascades, but the stone retaining wall of Devil’s Elbow.

Remnants of Firehole Marshall Hotel and the Mattie Culver Gravesite

The Firehole Marshall Hotel was the second hotel built and operated in Yellowstone. Erected in 1880 by George W. Marshall, and located near the Nez Perce Creek, the structure served as a mail station and small hotel. Remnants of the old hotel include pieces of ceramic plates and cups, broken glass, and rusty nails and tin cans spread across the ground. Martha “Mattie” Shipley Culver and her husband Ellery worked in the hotel during the summer of 1888. Mattie was 30 years old when she died of tuberculosis on March 2, 1889 and was buried approximately 30 years from the now existing Nez Perce Picnic Area restroom.

Road Section: Madison to Old Faithful. Location: South of the Nez Perce Picnic Area, about a 30-yard walk, you will see six posts with iron fencing surrounding the grave and headstone. Walking south from the grave you will see the remnants of where the old hotel and blacksmith shed – old cans, ceramic pieces of cups and plates, broken glass, etc.

Corkscrew Bridge

The stone and concrete corkscrew bride still stands today but is no longer in service. It is the 1919 creation (or redesign) that was used to help wagons, horse-drawn carriages, and later vehicles climb the Sylvan Pass by lessening the gradient via a unique corkscrew design. The first version of this bridge was wooden and built in 1904.

Road Section: Fishing Bridge to East Entrance. Location: East of Sylvan Summit a marked View Point and parking allow you to gaze down at the old bridge part of the corkscrew structure and the old road that lead up/down the canyon.

Military Shooting Range

During the years of 1886 to 1918 the US Army, Company M, First United States Calvary, Fort Custer, Montana Territory, was stationed to Yellowstone National Park. Their duties there included enforcing park regulations, safeguarding wildlife against poachers, engaging in the management of the wildlife populations, providing protection of natural features, and performing other activities that helped create many of the park policies and practices used in the management of national parks.

To keep their military arms skills honed, the historic military shooting range was created. Soldiers would sit in the trench behind the wall and hold up targets while other soldiers would engage in target practice. I know, that would not have a chance at passing today’s OSHA guidelines.

Road Section: Northeast to Mammoth. Location: Shortly into the Rescue Creek Trail, and from the trail junction that breaks to the northeast, travel about .4 miles. From here, look northwest to see the remnants of the 120-yard-long, cement stone wall.

Kite Hill Cemetery

On a hill near Mammoth Hot Springs is a cemetery for civilians who lived and died in Yellowstone National Park. Also in the area of Mammoth is the Fort Yellowstone Cemetery that served as the burial place for U.S. Army soldiers and their family members who died while serving in the park.

Road Section: Northeast to Mammoth. Location: Located atop the hill directly behind Mammoth Hot Springs Motel. No real trail exists to the cemetery, and caution is the rule as to not disturb any of the fragile gravesites.

Roosevelt Arch

The history of the Roosevelt Arch is an interesting one as it was unexpectedly dedicated before it was completed and by the then President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt. Following the years after its construction, it served as the North Entrance to Yellowstone. It is actually located outside the park in Gardner, Montana, less than a mile from the North Entrance. You can now enter the arch and take a look at the hollow insides of the structure. The words, “For the Benefit and Enjoyment of the People” are engraved on a plaque positioned high on the arch and come from the 1872 legislation that established Yellowstone National Park.

Road Section: Located just outside the Northeast Entrance to the park in Gardner, Montana, and the Northeast to Mammoth road section.

Old Faithful Inn

Ok, the Old Faithful Inn certainly does not jive with the title of this article. However, we place it here as it truly is one of the, if not the most iconic building in Yellowstone National Park, located near the most iconic feature in the park, Old Faithful Geyser, and constructed during the years 1903-1904. Old Faithful Inn is the design creation of architect Robert C. Reamer. Its rustic architecture is truly something to behold and the story of its creation and unique internal features is something everyone should experience in the park.

Road Section: Madison to Old Faithful. Location: Old Faithful in the Upper Geyser Basin.

If your planning on visiting Yellowstone National Park, you should consider purchasing the Yellowstone Explored Travel Book. The book has all of this information and so much more! You can purchase the Yellowstone Explored book by clicking HERE.

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